How to tell the boss I'm knocked up?
August 12, 2008 2:33 PM   Subscribe

How do I tell my new boss that I am pregnant?

I've read the general tips online, but I'm looking for first-hand experiences from those who have travelled this treacherous path before me. How did you handle this, and what did you learn?

FWIW, I work in higher education administration. I am in a new position (about a month), with significantly more responsibility, in a department I've worked in for several years. I'm 3 months pregnant with my first child. I plan to go on leave for a few months and then come back to work while my partner stays home. My new boss is an older, childless, powerful, not-very-warm-or-fuzzy woman -- in other words, I worry what psychology will play into how she hears my news -- and I definitely am still in a position where I need to earn her trust and confidence.

My instincts tell me to buy myself as much time as I can. I'm thinking of making it a habit to bring a huge box of donuts to work every day to give the impression that I'm just porking up. This, sadly, is the best idea I've had so far. Please hope me.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You need to speak with HR and read up on the Family Medical Leave Act..

This assumes you are in the united states...
posted by iamabot at 2:42 PM on August 12, 2008

People respect people who respect themselves. Just tell her what's going to happen, unapologetically. What's the alternative?
posted by mpls2 at 2:44 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Did you know you were pregnant when you took the position? If not, I think that makes it easier, and it's something you should tell her.
posted by onlyconnect at 2:53 PM on August 12, 2008

In higher education administration, I would expect a paid maternity leave in addition to the family medical leave act.
posted by leahwrenn at 2:58 PM on August 12, 2008

Consult your university's employee handbook to find out what their maternity leave policy is. If you're in the states, I assume your employer is large enough to be covered by FMLA; still it would be best to know what your local laws are on the subject. Also, check your insurance coverage to see if any of your policies, such as short-term disability, will cover your pregnancy and delivery.

With all of this in your back pocket, go talk to your boss. I imagine she'll want to know two things: will you be coming back after you have the child and do you plan on working until your due date. All other issues, such as exactly how long your leave will be, whether you are willing to attend to any work business during your leave, etc., can be addressed farther down the line, once you feel more confident in your working relationship.
posted by Sully6 at 3:06 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I recommend you take the next two or three months, depending on when you start showing, to learn what your legal situation is, what your wants are, and plan how best to make those meet in the middle. This will give you a little time for trust-building with the new boss, which practically speaking sounds like it would reassure you, though legally speaking it shouldn't be required.

As I understand it, you need not say anything, up until the day you give birth and notify the company that you will be taking maternity leave. There was a woman at my (large) company who did exactly this and it's basically a don't tell/can't ask situation (your employer is not allowed to ask if you are pregnant). But this approach is considered kind of weird, I think, and not very considerate of the people who depend on you in a work environment.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:25 PM on August 12, 2008

I could have written this, word for word, a couple of years ago. Word for word. Here are my tips, bulleted, because that's how my boss always asks for everything. In Bulleted Format. :)

*I waited until a couple of weeks into my second trimester, just about right before there was no way to use the donut excuse. For me, this worked well as I was feeling a bit more comfortable, in general, with the idea I was pregnant and it was about when I would need to take a few more days here and there for appointments, and it meant I wasn't pregnant for "too long" at the workplace, cutting down on the "are you still here?" commentary. If you're having trouble, physically, with the pregnancy, however, sooner is better than later as you may need more sick days as you go along.
*Make an appointment at a time of day you know is good for her, during an administrative cycle that is not crazy (strategic unit plan due date time, for example), preferably after she is going to present or do something for the college that she's either really into or will be relieved to be done with. You're looking for a relaxed moment in her schedule that won't have her looking at you like you're abandoning the office at a critical time--even if you're not really.
*At the appointment, dress like you would for an interview and simply say it, couched with a compliment to her position and power, and an immediate nod to your general plans: "I wanted to let you know that I am expecting a baby around mm/dd. It was important to me that you knew before it was common knowledge as I respect the work you expect from the office and your management. I am planning on returning to work after a maternity leave, and would like to do everything I can to make this a smooth transition for everyone." This kind of statement respects her by giving her notice in plenty of time (and make this true, btw, don't go around telling everyone else but her, she'll figure it out), answers the first question that will be on her mind immediately (is she coming back?), and communicates your dedication without, and this is important, making any promises (more on this later).
*Don't be surprised if she is uncharacteristically emotional, many folks, even childless and powerful ones, are about a new baby coming. If she is, let down your guard a bit and share a bit more of your own excitement and feelings and let her share the moment with you.
*Don't be surprised if she has a negative reaction. If she does, you might simply say that "I understand that this is news that changes a lot of different decisions for the office, and it might be best if I let you think about my announcement for a bit and I schedule another time to talk about the details." This gives you a chance to stay away from getting emotional or upset and saves her from saying something HR could get concerned about--it preserves your working relationship, in other words, and that's going to be important in the months to come.
*Be prepared to answer questions, but don't make promises. AND you are going to be sorely tempted to make promises--because you're a good worker bee, and I know just how it is to work in admin high ed, and you don't want anyone thinking that you're any kind of pregnancy lame duck. Decide in advance what you know the answers to: how much leave, approximately when you're coming back, what your project timelines are, how you will transition before you take leave, etc. However, DO NOT "promise" to work all the way up to the birth--it's just not something you can predict. Do not promise that you won't need any more leave; you just may, for medical or personal reasons. Do not promise you won't need flex time; your priorities and needs may change a lot after the baby comes. If you're planning on doing something like pumping or taking nursing breaks, check with your workplace policy now and don't be apologetic or shrinking about it. Work is important, but it's much harder to deal with feeling like you're compromising how you'd like to mother your kid than any nagging feelings about work.
*Keep her posted as you go along, but you're not obligated to over share. When you've made an effort to keep the office in mind, like scheduling Sat. check-ups, etc., let her know--it's not kissing up, it's making it clear that you understand her priorities. On the other hand, don't feel like you have to let her know every little personal thing going on--if she's not the warm and fuzzy type she may interpret normal preggo chit-chat as some kind of lack of commitment from you.
*Making an effort to understand her perspective and honoring it professionally will go a long way towards inspiring her trust. This trust WILL be important when you need time to pump, or need a flex-ed schedule, or have childcare issues, etc. Keep track of how your new hypervigilance (both before and after the baby) is contributing to overall office productivity. Do this with your calendar or a professional diary. This way, if there ever is a question, you have some documentation on your side. This is something that has helped me out more than once. I was surprised how many times my performance was, even in little ways, somehow questioned, and being able to go over my work in a specific and documented way made me come out way ahead and in good graces.
*If you're someone who mixes up a lot of personal feelings with your work, find a productive outlet for that (for me it was lunch time walks with a trusted work friend). You'll need a pressure valve even if you never did before.

It's hard being a working mama. You'll be very tired; you'll question so much. I HIGHLY recommend a little "check-in" personal talk therapy--to start once you've gone back to work. It will help you sort out all the feelings and conflict and take care of you so you can take care of your new little one. But you know, it's rewarding. I've never felt like a superperson before, but I have this last year working full-time and being a mom. For me, the conflict I felt has led to a long overdue career change--my son gave me the energy and passion to start going for something I was really excited about and things that before seemed impossibly terrifying (going back to school, etc.) now seem like adventures.

Don't hesitate to email me (in profile) for moral support. CONGRATULATIONS!
posted by rumposinc at 3:32 PM on August 12, 2008 [8 favorites]

leahwrenn, you would be sadly disappointed. When I worked in administration at a private liberal-arts school, I got six weeks of paid sick leave and six weeks of short-term disability. With my second pregnancy at a big public university, the only pay I got came from vacation and sick leave I had amassed. [Professional staff seldom get the same maternity benefits afforded to faculty but that's a whole 'nuther rant.]

OP, having been both you and your boss [except that I am warm and fuzzy], the main thing I would stress is that if there is ANY chance that you might not return from maternity leave, don't spend your pregnancy talking as though you'll definitely, 100% be back. We've been burned three times by colleagues who decided in their 11th week of leave to not return, and it sucks on so many levels. As a supervisor, I would prefer to know if you are ambivalent because then I can make different contingency plans. It also makes it incredibly difficult for the next person who gets pregnant because no one believes her when she says she'll be back.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:50 PM on August 12, 2008

You should check to make sure, but some employees (especially if you work for the state, which may be the case if you work for a university or college) do not qualify for FMLA until they have been employed for 12 months. Depending on what state you are in, maternity leave may be paid or unpaid.
posted by Mimzy at 4:05 PM on August 12, 2008


I second what mpls2 said.

Balancing Pregnancy and Work by Nancy W. Hall might be a good resource for you. Major points from the “Breaking the News” chapter:
- Get to know the FMLA and your workplace’s policies before breaking the news.
- If you trust someone in the office who has had to deliver similar news, ask her how it went.
- When you sit down to tell your boss the news, bring a plan for how your work can be covered while you’re out. If it’s detailed, write it down for your boss. Explain how you’ll pass the baton when you go out for maternity leave and how you’ll pick up your work again when you return.
- Don’t apologize or act as though you feel guilty—it is perfectly legal to be pregnant and employed at the same time.
- Don’t panic. Who knows? Maybe your boss has something approaching human emotion and will be at least a little bit happy for you.

Good luck!
posted by TEA at 4:13 PM on August 12, 2008

I work at a university and had a baby earlier this year. I was similarly nervous - in my case, I had been promised an upcoming promotion but had nothing on paper yet. I was convinced it was going to derail my career. At the time my department was all-male, and my boss is older and childless, though we get along well.

Other posters are correct that the first thing is to know your rights according to federal and state law as well as university policy regarding leave. You are not required to take on extra work just because you're going to be gone. However, making it clear that you are interested in a smooth transition to leave is the professional way to handle the situation. I spent time thinking about how to anticipate and head off issues well before I was actually gone.

In the end I told around 16 weeks. All I did was say "You should know that I will be on maternity leave beginning in February". You have nothing to apologize for. Though you don't owe them this, I do think it is probably appropriate to mention that your partner plans to stay home with the baby. This immediately eases any concerns about your commitment, though it is incredibly annoying that society feels that way. In general, professionalism is the key concept - plan out coverage, warn key people months in advance, and make sure everyone has the knowledge they will need while you were gone. If you can establish this at the initial meeting, that's going to set the tone for the rest of your pregnancy.

After I told, the conversation moved on to completing the promotion process! In the end, my leave went by in a flash, people barely noticed I was gone, and these days I am much busier with my new job responsibilities plus the cutest baby ever.
posted by pekala at 4:58 PM on August 12, 2008

I accepted a job out of grad school that was to start in 12 weeks' time, and found out the very next week I was pregnant - so I started 11 weeks' pregnant. I waited a few weeks, and then told my boss, explaining that although I struggled with whether to tell them before starting, I chose not to because I couldn't know if the pregnancy would be viable. It worked for me to tell her early (I also spoke directly with the other people--all senior to me--that I would be working directly with) because it allowed them the maximum time to plan for my leaving (I told them at the same time that I wouldn't be coming back) and, I think much more importantly, gave them the message that I planned to be upfront with them and share in the planning around any inconveniences that might arise. (We agreed to not tell the rest of the staff until a little later, but it was important to me that we made sure the staff was apprised before I began to show, to avoid rumors.)

Two other big things helped:
- Asking her directly if she had concerns about my situation.
- Asking her advice on how to deal with staff reactions--i.e., did she think people would react badly? How might we manage it so that people felt in the loop about it? Were there allies that could be identified to set the tone?

Obviously, this kind of discussion is dependent on your relationship to your boss (mine was a mentor-mentee kind of situation, it certainly may not be appropriate for you to be asking for that kind of advice from her), and who you are and who she is, as people. Just sharing my experience.

I agree with the other comments that you absolutely do not need to be apologetic, and I hope that my account of my own experience doesn't sound contradictory to that advice, because I think you can be both unapologetic AND concerned with presenting your news in the best, most professional, manner.

Congratulations, and good luck!
posted by dreamphone at 5:17 PM on August 12, 2008

onlyconnect: "Did you know you were pregnant when you took the position? If not, I think that makes it easier, and it's something you should tell her."

I disagree. It's not her boss's business if she knew or not. Bringing the timing up is going to make her sound apologetic, either way, for something that she shouldn't apologize for.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:57 PM on August 12, 2008

Firstly, congratulations!

I'm like your boss (except I wouldn't describe myself as powerful!), but just because I've chosen not to have kids, doesn't mean that I'm anti-baby, or that I don't understand that everyone has a life outside work. Chances are, lots of her friends will have children and will have gone through the same thing you're going through, so she may not be as unsympathetic as you think.

The boss' perspective:
One of my team recently told me that she was pregnant, at 6 weeks (maybe a bit too early!) My initial thoughts were "very happy for her" mixed with "how are we going to cope when she's on maternity leave?" and "is she coming back?". 4 months on (4 months to go), we've got a much better relationship than we did before. She loves her job and has made it clear that she intends to come back (she's already got childcare planned, which gives me more confidence in this), so we're planning her projects and training around her maternity leave. I'm not naturally a warm-and-fuzzy boss, but I'm realising that maybe it wouldn't be such a bad thing to allow myself to be more personal in my relationships with my team. I really appreciate the fact that she's been upfront with me - it shows her commitment to her job, and gives me the chance to plan the team's work over the next 12 months. And while she's not had an easy pregnancy, because I know what's going on, I'm in a position to provide the support that she needs, so her performance and career development hasn't suffered either.

I'd be inclined to tell your boss sooner rather than later. You're going to be taking leave in 6 months time regardless, so the sooner you tell her, the better you can work with her to plan your work, transition and return. Telling her later gives her less time to plan, and she may resent the fact that you chose not to tell her earlier, which won't help to gain her trust and confidence.

I know it's difficult because you're starting a new job, but you've been there for a few years so even though she may not have worked with you directly, she'll be aware of your commitment to your work and your reputation.

Good luck!
posted by finding.perdita at 6:15 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I disagree. It's not her boss's business if she knew or not. Bringing the timing up is going to make her sound apologetic, either way, for something that she shouldn't apologize for.

Blah. Taking a job while keeping quiet about a known big amount of time off, be it for a baby or any other reason, is crappy and unprofessional. People owe, and people expect, a basic level of honesty and ability to meet the demands of the job.
posted by xmutex at 6:48 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I find new jobs an aphrodisiac ... three times now I have gotten pregnant the same month I started a new job. Each time I have told my boss I was pregnant (usually around the six month mark for me) I have had no problem. In Canada I get a paid year off so there is a significant gap in employment but I returned to each job on good terms. Most bosses are human are recognise that you have a life outside work and are glad that it makes you a well-rounded person with additional skills to bring to your job.

I just wanted to reassure you that this is a situation your boss has probably faced before and it can go really well.

posted by saucysault at 3:36 AM on August 13, 2008

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